Open up discussion about sports fairness

It’s an old question we’ve heard people asking for years: Are sports treated fairly in the Saranac Lake Central School District, or does the historically strong football program get more than its share of resources for fields, coaches, buses and other amenities?

We’re not going to take a side on that, but we will say it’s a reasonable question for many students and their parents to ask — a question worth discussing openly in the community of students, taxpayers, parents, alumni and staff. Such a discussion hasn’t really happened, and the question isn’t going away. Rather, it seems to be coming to a head.

In the last five months, 530 people have signed a petition initiated by a group of parents calling themselves the Saranac Lake Sports Advocacy Group. Few of them made their names public on the website, but still, that’s a fair number of people in a district with 1,200 K-12 students — too many for the leadership to blow off.

That’s why we were surprised at the seemingly dismissive tone from Superintendent Diane Fox, both in her comments for a recent Enterprise article and in a letter to the editor.

“This small group is perhaps misrepresenting this,” Fox told the reporter. “I don’t think this is a student issue. I don’t believe the kids are particularly unhappy with it.”

We have personally heard enough student-athletes complain about it, both now and in the past, that we are confident in saying her statement is wrong.

On the other hand, district leaders are clearly aware of the concerns and are also taking some action in response. Fox said the district is bringing in a turf management company to maintain all its fields to address complaints that the football and baseball fields are treated much better than those used for softball, soccer, lacrosse, etc. We hope that doesn’t cost too much. District officials are also looking at ways to upgrade Schroeter’s Field, where soccer and lacrosse games and practices are held.

There’s also talk that Ken Wilson Field could get artificial turf — a longtime goal of athletic director and football head coach Eric Bennett — and be adapted for soccer and lacrosse as well as football. That would be very expensive and would require a referendum, but voters would be more likely to approve it for three sports than just one, especially one that uses that field for only about five home games a year and uses a separate field for practice.

So yes, district officials are listening to these petitioners’ concerns, even if reluctantly. We’d like administrators and, more importantly, the school board to open up and facilitate this conversation, however annoying it may be to them. Some people just want to vent complaints that have been building up for years, and that won’t be fun to sit through. Still, it’s necessary to get through that thicket to arrive at some kind of consensus on the other side.

We’re not sure what that solution should be. It may require only a few changes, or maybe more. We hope it won’t be too expensive; throwing money at a problem never works.

We also hope people remember that academics, not sports, is the point of school and why we invest so much of our taxes in it.

Finally, we hope the board listens to current students first and foremost — all of them, not just a few. They understand this situation more intimately than most adults do, they have to live with each other daily in the school community, and they can be very helpful in coming up with a reasonable solution.